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January 28, 2013

For Starters...

Distinguished Georgia starting quarterbacks of the last 40 years:
The Winner (John Lastinger), The Ultimate Underdog (Jeff Pyburn),
and Mr. Perfect (Brian Smith)
Over the weekend, I heard some sports-talk radio hosts discussing the playoff success of Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco entering the Super Bowl: the Ravens are 8-4 when Flacco starts at quarterback, they notably have the same record against the spread in those 12 games, and four of the eight victories have resulted when Baltimore was an underdog.

Perhaps file this with the for-what-it's-worth-probably-not-much posts, but I decided to find out the same for Georgia's starting quarterbacks beginning in 1973 (the year college football point spreads became relative to today's lines), figuring every quarterback's career starting record, their record when the Bulldogs entered as underdogs, and their starting record against the spread.  Plus, I've added a few historical notations along the way.

I realize a quarterback's record as a starter does not fully equate to his overall value; far from it, in fact, in some instances.  However, there is some value in whether a player directly guided his team under center to a win, or a loss.  This was especially the case recently when we heard the outcry of "Aaron Murray (the team's quarterback, as we all know) can't win the big game."  In addition, these rankings are somewhat appropriate since there is a minor but prevailing discrepancy with which actual Georgia quarterback has the best career starting record.

––Of the 28 Georgia quarterbacks to have started in the 40-season period from 1973 through 2012, seventeen started at least 10 games for their careers.  Below, these 17 are ranked according to their starting winning percentage, followed by career record in the seasons they started for the Bulldogs.  As indicated, I began with 1973 because that was the initial season computers were used to help determine college football point spreads and, according to a guy I know at The GoldSheet, any line in the sport prior to 1973 has "little relation" to today's college football point spreads.  However, if the lines prior to '73 aren't considered, the first two seasons of the great ANDY JOHNSON are not recognized.  Therefore, for the following analysis, I used "nonrelative" Las Vegas odds from 1971 and 1972 simply so Johnson's career starting record against the spread would be a complete one.

Starting Winning Percentage
.891  John Lastinger (20-2-1 in '82-'83)
.871  Buck Belue (27-4 in '79-'81)
.833  DJ Shockley (10-2 in '05)
.808  David Greene (42-10 in '01-'04)
.794  Matt Stafford (27-7 in '06-'08)
.783  Ray Goff (18-5 in '75-'76)
.778  Wayne Johnson (14-4 in '85-'88)
.750  Andy Johnson (23-7-2 in '71-'73)
.710  Quincy Carter (22-9 in '98-'00)
.683  Aaron Murray (28-13 in '10-'12)
.667  James Jackson (19-9-2 in '85-'87)
.646  Eric Zeier (26-14-1 in '91-'94)
.646  Jeff Pyburn (15-8-1 in '77-'79)
.643  Joe Cox (9-5 in '06, '09)
.615  Mike Bobo (16-10 in '95-'97)
.545  Matt Robinson (6-5 in '74-'75)
.520  Greg Talley (13-12 in '89-'91)

––Here's the discrepancy: Officially, BUCK BELUE has a 27-3 career record; that is what's listed in Georgia's records along with what's in the NCAA record book (which likely acquired the record directly from UGA).  And, a 27-3 mark is a .900 winning percentage, or just better than JOHN LASTINGER, which would claim the top stop among Georgia's starting quarterbacks.  However, Belue started games four through ten of the '79 season, in which Georgia had a 5-2 record, and all 12 games in both 1980 (12-0 record) and 1981 (10-2).  Either my calculator is broken or Belue had an "unofficial" career starting record of 27-4, and not the official 27-3 mark.  Perhaps where the discrepancy lies is the meeting with Auburn in 1979 – a game in which Belue started but appeared for only a single play (a two-yard loss after being sacked in his own end zone, yielding an Auburn safety while suffering a broken ankle).  Nevertheless, according to the NCAA, a quarterback is considered having started a game if he simply takes his team's first offensive snap.  Therefore, a seemingly slight oversight has given credit where it wasn't due, handing JEFF PYBURN a losing start while enabling Belue to sit atop the "official" chart.
Seemingly, a bum ankle vs. Auburn in '79 determined 
passing the buck of a starting loss for Belue.

RECORDS of UGA Quarterbacks with Less than 10 Starts (chronological order): Dicky Clark 1-1; Randy Cook 0-2; Steve Rogers 0-1; Todd Williams 5-3-1; David Dukes 3-1; Preston Jones 1-1; Joe Dupree 0-1; Brian Smith 4-0; Hines Ward 1-4; Cory Phillips 3-2; Joe Tereshinski 2-3

––Filling in for Mike Bobo in 1996, and Bobo and Hines Ward the year before, BRIAN SMITH started only four games his entire career: Clemson, Vanderbilt, and Kentucky in '95, and Auburn in '96.  However, Smith won all four games, including two in which Georgia entered as underdogs (Clemson and Auburn), while the Bulldogs covered each contest, as well.  Granted, the final start against Auburn by Georgia's "Mr. Perfect" is worthy of an asterisk since Smith was benched late in the second quarter with Georgia trailing by three touchdowns before Bobo rallied the team in a four-overtime victory.  Nonetheless, a start is a start... 
Top 5 Against the Spread
.667  Ray Goff (14-7-1 ATS)
.630  Buck Belue (17-10-3 ATS)
.600  Matt Robinson (6-4 ATS)
.588  Wayne Johnson (10-7 ATS)
.560  David Greene (28-22 ATS)
Under .500 Against the Spread
.348  Jeff Pyburn (8-15-1 ATS)
.357  Joe Cox (5-9 ATS)
.400  Greg Talley (10-15 ATS)
.448  James Jackson (13-16 ATS)

––Of the 17 Georgia quarterbacks to have started 10+ games, notably, only four have a record against the spread under .500.  Bringing up the rear is JEFF PYBURN, who covered just one-third of his 24 career starts.  However, Pyburn is remarkably Georgia's leader with five wins (and only three losses) as a starter when the Bulldogs were dubbed underdogs (South Carolina in '77, Baylor, Clemson, and LSU in '78, and Georgia Tech in '79).  Therefore, if you're keeping up at home, you'll figure that when Pyburn started and Georgia was favored, any wager placed on the Bulldogs was a near-guaranteed loss; the Bulldogs covered just three of 16 games in such circumstances.   
Most Wins as an Underdog (number of losses)
5- Jeff Pyburn (3)
4- Buck Belue (0)
4- Matt Stafford (2)
4- David Greene (5)

––In the five games HINES WARD started at quarterback while a Bulldog – all occurring in his sophomore season of 1995 – Georgia entered as an underdog for all five (Alabama, Florida, Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Virginia in the Peach Bowl).  In comparison, of the Bulldogs' seven other games that season, only once did the team enter as the underdog.
Bottom 5 in Underdog Win Percentage (at least 4 games)
.111  Aaron Murray (1-8 UND)
.200  Hines Ward (1-4 UND)
.250  Eric Zeier (2-7-1 UND)
.333  James Jackson (2-4 UND)
.333  Mike Bobo (2-4 UND)

––Of the 113 games Georgia entered as underdogs from 1973 to 2009, only 55.8 percent of the time the Bulldogs would actually lose the game, including an excellent 12-12 underdog record during that time under Mark Richt.  In sharp contrast, over the last three seasons under Richt and with AARON MURRAY starting under center, Georgia is a lowly 1-8 as an underdog.  Over the last 40 years (and likely much longer), never have the Bulldogs experienced such a dismal stretch in games they were supposed to lose.  Still, in looking at the upcoming 2013 schedule, I spot at least two, and maybe as many as four, regular-season foes that will probably be favored over Georgia.  Therefore, Murray should have ample opportunity to improve upon his underdog and "big game" mark.

January 21, 2013

UGA's Version of a Football Player–Girl Hoax

A hoax on UGA's Dick Richardson in 1942...
As I, like many of you, continued to scratch my head during the weekend over the Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, I pleasantly recalled a story a member of Georgia's 1942 Rose Bowl team told me when I interviewed him several years ago.  Although newsworthy at the time, the incident from exactly seven decades ago wasn't nearly as scandalous as today's Te'o tale, nor as entertaining, but an innocent account of a hoax involving a Bulldog player and an "untouchable" girl that had a happy ending.

Remembering what the former player mentioned to me, plus some old articles I recently discovered, here's the story of the "girl" hoax on the Georgia Bulldog that backfired:

Sophomore Dick Richardson was a 6-foot-3, 200-pound key reserve tackle on the '42 championship team and a member of the university's Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.  Following the Bulldogs' regular season and before the team was to venture to the Rose Bowl, a telegram from Athens signed by Richardson and with the return address of the SAE house was sent to renowned Hollywood actress Betty Grable  "the darling of the forties." 
Richardson's telegram stated: "I am a tackle on the University of Georgia Rose Bowl team.  I was recently chosen the most handsome man on the campus.  Would like a luncheon date with you at your convenience some time between December 23 and January 3.  If it can be arranged please answer collect."

Instead of the telegram being ignored, which is what usually resulted with such requests, the PR department of 20th Century Fox contacted the Atlanta media, which in turn reached out to Richardson, who, in reality, had made no attempt to contact Grable.
...got the lineman a date with "the girl
with the million dollar legs."

"Nope, I didn't send [the telegram]," Richardson told a news reporter.   "Must have been some of the fellows around [the SAE house].  They're mighty playful at times."

The reporter asked Richardson what if by chance the actress agreed to a date based upon the bogus invitation.  "I will be glad to take her to dinner if she can go," Richardson responded. 
"Would you miss the game to take Miss Grable out?" the reporter followed up.  Curiously, there was no response from Richardson in regards to missing the Rose Bowl for a date with the number-one pin-up girl during World War II.

In what was described as a hoax gone good, Grable made national news by replying to the phony wire and accepting the date.  While the Bulldogs were in the Los Angeles area preparing to face UCLA on January 1st, Richardson and Grable ate lunch together four days prior to the game and then she personally gave the Bulldog lineman a tour of a Hollywood studio.  Concluding the date, she also gave Richardson "a great big kiss," which I'm guessing was actually a rather big deal back then compared to how it seems today.

After their kiss, Richardson said to Grable, "this will be something to tell my grandchildren."  In response, the buxom blonde quipped, "What!  Don't tell me you have grandchildren!"

Richardson's Hollywood fairy tale didn't end with the Rose Bowl and the story would have a happy ending.  Following the Bulldogs' trip out West, Grable actually invited him to return to California at a later date for a screen test.  There's no mention if any kind of relationship ever developed between the two.  Regardless, several years later, the former Georgia football player would marry Virginia Stewart a Chi Omega at UGA.
Ahhh, a feel-good story from what has been recognized as our country's "Greatest Generation," and a sharp contrast to Notre Dame's account 70 years later of a hoax involving a football player and his love interest.

Speaking of Te'o, if not possessing even worse character flaws, he's extremely naive and delusional at the very least.  Personally, I agree with what I heard Charles Barkley (of all people) say a few days ago: I kind of feel "sad" for Te'o, and unlike Georgia's, Notre Dame's version of a football player, a girl, and a hoax is probably "not going to end good."

January 10, 2013

"Hey, James Brown... Sing that Junkyard Dog Thing!"

Six months ago, I blogged about how I had been generously given the Bulldog radio broadcast of the 1975 Georgia-Florida game, and posted the last 26 minutes of the broadcast.  As I stated then:

For most of us Bulldog enthusiasts, the lone moment we've heard from the broadcast is the great Richard Appleby-to-Gene Washington 80-yard touchdown pass, which "won" Georgia the game. However, as I've mentioned here a couple of times before, there was a ton of time remaining after the memorable end-around touchdown play. The Gators would have possession of the ball TWICE more and even made a game-tying field-goal attempt with nearly one minute left.
Recently, I was handed another Georgia football treasure: coaches film from that same game.  The individual that sent me the film was actually one of the Bulldogs' 11 offensive players on the field when Appleby threw to Washington.  I have made an attempt to mix Munson's broadcast with my edited version of the film, plus added a little cheesy commentary, to bring what ranks as one of the most exciting final few minutes in UGA football history:  

January 4, 2013

Best Bulldogs' Team of All Time?

Despite two losses, the '81 Bulldogs rank as one
of the best UGA football teams of all time...
What is the best Georgia football team of all time?  It's a question thrown my way every so often, and one that's always rather difficult for me to answer.  In fact, for all the times I've been asked the question, the answer I've likely given the most is one of uncertainty. 

Unlike for some football programs, the answer to what is the greatest Bulldog football team in history, for various reasons, is not so cut and dry.
I received an email from a reader yesterday, mentioning that it appears the Bulldogs will finish this season ranked in the final AP Poll's top five for the 10th time in the program's history.  So, with that being said, the reader asked, "is this year's Bulldogs' team one of UGA football's top ten best of all time" in my opinion?
There was little hesitation in my response No.  For one, Georgia played football for about 40 years and had several outstanding teams before the first AP rankings of 1934.  Nevertheless, after a fine 12-2 season, the question can be asked regarding if the 2012 Bulldogs rank among the best teams ever at the school.  And, above all, what season's football team is the best in school history?
For what it's worth, this morning I compiled my opinion of the top UGA football teams of all time.  Notably, it's obviously difficult to compare teams of the modern era to ones from yesteryear; Georgia's best Red and Black squads from long ago would likely lose to most single-A high school teams of today.  Therefore, all Georgia teams were evaluated based on their accomplishments in relation to their respective eras.
With this season's Georgia team coming in at No. 20, my top 20 Bulldogs' football teams of all time (including one when  Georgia was yet to be known as the "Bulldogs"), along with each season's record and an explanation as to why each is ranked higher, or lower than one might think:
# 1- 1946 (11-0)
The Bulldogs' first of only two perfect teams, which faced more than four opponents, not only outscored the opposition by nearly four touchdowns per game, but was really never threatened.  Georgia's smallest margin of victory was 10 points against UNC in the Sugar Bowl.
# 2- 1981 (10-2)
I've always argued that the best of Georgia's four great teams from 1980 to 1983 was the one with the worst record.  Statistically, the '81 Dawgs were by far the best of the four.  I recently asked a member of the 1980 and 1981 teams which of the two was the best (and, even though only a year separated them, the two teams were very much different as just six of 24 starters from the '80 team would be considered starters in '81).  "I'll put it this way," the player told me,  "if the 1980 and 1981 teams played one another 10 times, the '81 team would win 11 of them."
# 3- 1942 (11-1)
Some old-timers contend that the '42 team one which earned the first of Georgia's two consensus national championships perhaps is the best ever at the school, and likely even better than the '46 squad.  However, it's hard to look past a one-point win in the season opener against a Kentucky team that would finish with a 3-6-1 record and a two-touchdown upset loss to a 6-4-1 Auburn squad.
# 4- 1968 (8-1-2)
Despite winning just eight of 11 games, the Bulldogs were acknowledged as the top team in the country by the NCAA-recognized Litkenhous rankings a computer rating-based poll.  In addition, the erroneous tie against Tennessee should have actually been a Georgia victory, while the Bulldogs clearly didn't give their all in a 14-point loss to Arkansas in New Orleans. 
# 5- 1927 (9-1)
Dominant for first nine games of season, Georgia handed Yale its only loss of the year while outscoring the other eight foes by an average score of 29 to 2.  The '27 team was headed for a Rose Bowl and likely the distinction of being one of the best teams in the history of college football before an inferior Tech squad pulled the upset of all upsets with a 12-0 win.

However, in my opinion, no Georgia team can quite
compare to Charley Trippi and the rest of the '46 Dogs.
# 6- 1920 (8-0-1)
Only a 0-0 draw with a much-acclaimed Virginia team kept the 1920 Wildcats-turned-Bulldogs from being perfect.  Besides the tie, Georgia did escape with three victories of seven points or less; however, those three wins came against teams (Furman, Auburn, Alabama) which had a combined record of 26-1 against opponents other than Georgia.
# 7- 1980 (12-0)
How can Georgia's undefeated, untied, and "undisputed," as Coach Dooley likes to put it, national championship team of 1980 be only the 7th best in school history?  Easy.  Take a look at that team's schedule and the fact that no regular-season opponent finished ranked in the AP Poll or with a record of better than 8-4.  And, against the weak slate, half of the Bulldogs' 12 victories were by a touchdown or less.  More telling, because of the low scoring margin against such an easy schedule, the final New York Times computer poll ranked the "undisputed" Bulldogs a lowly seventh in the nation, including behind even a couple of 10-2 teams.
# 8- 2002 (13-1)
One of fans' favorite Georgia teams in recent memory got off to a winning but rocky start with close victories over Clemson and South Carolina.  Nevertheless, by the end of the season, the Bulldogs were arguably the best team in the nation and very well could have defeated Ohio State or Miami for the national title.  However, because of an earlier upset loss to 5-3 and unranked Florida, Georgia didn't even get a shot at the championship.
# 9- 1992 (10-2)
Eerily similar to the '81 Bulldogs, the Georgia team 11 years later seemed absolutely dominant statistically and "on paper" despite losers of two close games.  Of nine regular-season victories, only one was by less than 10 points.  It's too bad the Bulldogs couldn't come out on top in just one of their two losses Tennessee by three points, Florida by four points.  If so, Georgia would have played in the first SEC title game and, in my opinion, would have probably defeated Alabama, sending the Dogs to the Sugar Bowl for a shot at a national championship.
#10- 1971 (11-1)
Outscoring the opposition by an average 34-to-6 score, the '71 Bulldogs are perhaps the program's best team through the first nine games of a season.  However, according to a player from that season, "entering the Auburn game, we were beginning to run out of gas."  In the much-anticipated battle of the undefeateds, three-point favorite Georgia lost to the Tigers by 15 at home!  And then followed it up with mere four-point victories over Tech and UNC (Gator Bowl) after the Bulldogs entered each contest as double-digit favorites.
#11- 1982 (11-1): Many close calls during perfect regular season; 11-0 could have just as easily been 7-4.
#12- 1931 (8-2): In late October was recognized by a Los Angeles newspaper as best team in all of college football...Two losses (Tulane, Southern Cal) were to the teams which eventually played in Rose Bowl for national championship.  
#13- 1976 (10-2): Perhaps my favorite Georgia team of all time was rather dominant in each of its victories; however, its two losses to a 5-6 Ole Miss squad and by 24 points to Pitt in the Sugar Bowl were bad losses. 
#14- 1966 (10-1): Lone loss to unranked Miami, while average scoring margin was a comparatively low 12.5 points per game.  
#15- 1945 (9-2): Charley Trippi returns from military service and Georgia is inexplicably embarrassed in consecutive games against LSU and Alabama by a combined 60-14 score.  However, Trippi and the Bulldogs rebound to outscore final five opponents by an average margin of 29 points.
#16- 1983 (10-1-1): Another fan favorite was behind or tied more often than not, but still found a way to lose only one game.  The one loss Auburn by 13-7 score at home was much more lopsided than result indicates, while proving there was no question who was the best team in the SEC in '83.  
#17- 1948 (9-2): Without a Frank Sinkwich or a Trippi, the '48 Bulldogs are the forgotten SEC title team of the '40s.  Lack of running game proves costly in setback to UNC (28 rush. yds) and in upset loss to Texas in Cotton Bowl (56 rush. yds).
#18- 2007 (11-2): Yes, a second-place finish in the final AP Poll; however, it comes following two losses, including one by three touchdowns in Knoxville.  And, instead of a win over Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl, I've wondered before what would've been Georgia's bowl result if it rightfully faced USC in the Rose Bowl instead? 
#19- 1913 (6-2): Six victories, including over prominent Alabama and Georgia Tech teams, by an average winning margin of 35 points...Two losses to Virginia and Auburn, who combined to record 15-1 mark.
#202012 (12-2): Will be remembered for 12 victories for only the third time in school history, a top five finish, and being just a few yards from playing for a national championship...Will also be remembered for a Capital One Bowl postseason, an underachieving defense which allowed roughly 20 points and 360 yards per game, and a four-touchdown blowout loss in Columbia.
Just Missed Top 20: 1921 (7-2-1); 1941 (9-1-1); 1959 (10-1); 2003 (11-3)